Alex Morris was an otherwise healthy, young 19-year-old when he died of a heart attack in 2012. He had been a regular consumer of the popular energy drinks sold by the Monster Beverage Corporation. The Morris family believes it was those energy drinks that caused the teenager’s death and has brought a wrongful death suit against Monster Beverage.
“Monster’s position has traditionally been that these drinks have as much caffeine as a Starbucks Coffee,” says Karczewski. “Even if that was true, which it is not, no one has studied the synergistic effects of this stimulant, especially when it is repeatedly consumed by adolescent children.”
Karczewski has filed two more wrongful death cases that involve teenagers who died after consuming Monster Energy drinks. He’s also filed against Monster Beverage on behalf of an adult female who suffered a debilitating cardiac event; but mostly his office fields a lot of calls from families with troubling stories about young people who’ve had cardiac events and were fans of those fancy, flavored energy drinks.
“There’s evidence to show that Monster Beverage is targeting children as consumers and marketing directly to them,” says Karczewski from the R. Rex Parris Law Firm in Lancaster, California.
“Furthermore, the company is not disclosing the harmful effects of consuming the high doses of caffeine in Monster drinks in combination with other additives such as sugar, guarana (concentrated caffeine made from a plant), creatine (an organic acid that supplies energy to the muscles), and other herbs and substances in the drinks, many of which function as stimulants,” he adds.
For some time now, Karczewski has been gathering expert witnesses and pulling together the related facts and arguments. There’s a lot he’d like the court to hear about caffeine-loaded beverages and what those drinks with the “cleverly appealing names” can do to the cardiac vascular system and the central nervous system, especially when it comes to young people.
The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), a public health surveillance system run by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), called energy drinks “a continuing public health concern” in its January 10, 2013 report. Authors wrote, “the total amount of caffeine in a can or bottle of energy drink varies from 80 to 500 milligrams (mg), compared with about 100 mg in a 5-ounce cup of coffee,” and went on to say that “scientific evidence documents harmful health effects of energy drinks, particularly for children.”
A decade ago no one had ever heard of “energy drinks.” Today, energy drinks are a $4 to $5 billion business manufactured and marketed by Monster Beverage Corporation and several other companies including Red Bull and Rock Star.
The Monster Beverage Corporation markets its energy drinks under names such as Java Monster, Monster Rehab, and X-Presso Monster. The company, once known as Hansen’s Juices, originated in California and for decades sold its products primarily to movie studios and film companies. After going broke in 1988, the company re-emerged with a new name and new financial vigor, powered up by its line of caffeine-loaded energy drinks with catchy, clever names that drew the attention of teenagers, especially male teenagers.
Teenagers like 19-year-old Alex Morris.
“He began drinking Monster Beverage products as a child,” says Karczewski. “Consuming these drink products over the long term can lead to cardiomyopathy or an enlarged heart. That makes you more susceptible to acute cardiac events or a cardiac arrhythmia. We think that’s what happened to Alex. He had a cardiac event during sex.”
For several years now, the energy drink industry has been on the defensive, deflecting concerns and arguing no culpability for adverse health events. The Morris case will be an important event in the history of energy drinks and the role they have, if any, in cardiac and nervous system health effects.
In August 2014, the first litigation case and trial against Monster Beverage ended after Monster offered to settle for an undisclosed amount. An Oklahoma mother had claimed that her 16-year-old son suffered a non-fatal heart attack after drinking a Monster Beverage product while volunteering at a local church in 2011.
Monster Beverage’s attorneys in Oklahoma argued there was no evidence to show that the teen had actually consumed an energy drink that day.
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Karczewski has recently completed the discovery part of the Morris wrongful death suit and so he had some idea what Monster’s defense might be in the case. “They’re asking about his diet,” he says. “Our impression is that they are grasping at straws. Given that Monster backed out of the Oklahoma case in April may be the first real chance to see what Monster Beverage really has to say about the safety of the drinks they’re selling.”